I woke up early expecting to tour the farm, meet Lidia's parents, and participate in making sheep's milk ricotta, the creamy cheese Tara had used to make our tasty ravioli filling. As it turned out, Lidia wasn't able to shepherd us over to the family farm. Undeterred, we simply flowed into Plan B; there would be other experiences in store.
With a thunderstorm raging outside, we did indoor activities. Some of us read while others did laundry and began packing. Lisa took photos, working to capture the surrounding hills while I stood on the covered patio watching the clouds roll by. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Nice!
This is our last full day with Tara & Tyler. Lisa, Lian and I will drive to Rome tomorrow, stay overnight, and catch a flight home on Tuesday morning. I thought I'd feel sad today, but in this moment all I feel is satisfaction because the five of us are pulling together and relishing our experiences even more. Rather than seeing today as an ending, we're all concentrating on what's next!
Around noon the kitchen magic began. Lisa grabbed leftovers out of the fridge, Lian scrambled some eggs, and I made a couple grilled cheese sandwiches for Tyler and myself. Tara trumped us all with a culinary concoction that included bread, tomatoes, Parma ham, onion and three kinds of cheeses. I know I must be leaving something out. She broiled it in the oven for ten minutes until the cheese melted and the bread was nice and crispy. This was one of my favorite highlights of our week—everyone gathered around the stove and the table, cooking and eating together.
Lisa recently shared her experience in a "Going Slowly" journal post, observing how much time and energy Tara and Tyler dedicate to journaling each and every day. We all benefit, getting to enjoy the fruits of their labor every time we read a post on their website. As for me, I'm blown away by what it takes for Tara and Tyler to "run their ship".
After lunch, when the rain tapered off and clouds began to clear, Tara and Tyler started cleaning, reorganizing, and repacking their panniers for the next leg of their journey. This all-afternoon activity required them to handle everything they own: gear, tools, clothing, electronics, books—every single thing. During this process I was able to experience, first-hand, their commitment to planning ahead and using quality equipment. They rely on their bicycles, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear for everything. While they dug through their panniers, Lian went for a spin on Tara's unloaded bicycle.
Their new Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads required intense scrutiny; checking to see if they would fit into their sleeping bag sleeve, be comfortable on rocky ground, and most importantly would they load effectively on their bikes (these pads take up twice the space of their current mats). Since Lisa and I are here and will take home anything Tara and Tyler don't need, they have to be sure about which sleeping mats they want to keep. What a process!
The same analysis used with the sleeping mats was repeated with their new cook set. Tara had already used one of the new pans to make and serve her delicious Fig, Amaretto & Mascarpone Cheesecake, so the usefulness factor had already been established. Now space was the issue. How would this set of pots and pans fit in the Cooking Pannier? The camp stove and all of their dishes fit perfectly inside the cook set, freeing up valuable space in the pannier-—Success!
Then it was time for Tyler to tackle the Tool Pannier. Spare parts, patches, ball bearings, wrenches, and other things with names I've never heard before flew all over the place as Tyler culled out the useless items and carefully placed the valuables in new bags, boxes, and sealed cases. Clearly I was watching a master at work. Tara's new computer joined Tyler's laptop and the other equipment in the electronics backpack to be stored in the pannier with Tyler's clothing.
As all of this ensued, I watched Tara and Tyler as they worked intently and effectively together, feeling privileged to observe the two of them in action. They have such an amazing dedication to each other, to this journey, to being safe, and to having FUN! It takes enormous courage and commitment to do what they do, day in and day out. I was blown away by how much work they did for their trip over the course of the day and they hadn't even pedaled a single stroke. Wow!
Tyler and Tara were just finishing putting the last few items in their panniers when Lidia emerged from behind the farmhouse to give us two baskets of fresh figs and peaches she had just picked. What a treat! She explained that though the peaches didn't look that good, they were indeed delicious. While she was outside talking with us, Lisa, Lian and I took the opportunity to buy some of her family's delicious organic olive oil to take home.
After we purchased our oil, we asked Lidia for a restaurant recommendation where we could spend our last meal in Tuscany together. We had had such a good dinner at "Osteria Bottega dell'Abate" on our first night here, that we were sure wherever she suggested would be wonderful. She chose for us a simple, tiny restaurant about twenty minutes away called "Trattoria I'Nostrano". With only three or four tables in the whole place, she wanted to make sure we'd get one of them so she called to make us a reservation.
We couldn't wait to get there, but we had to because restaurants don't begin serving dinner until 7:45pm! With over three hours to anticipate what our evening would bring, we snacked to ward off hunger and went to Siena to do some grocery shopping. Mission: buy food for our meals tomorrow, locally-made pasta to bring home for gifts, and most importantly, staples for Tara and Tyler to fill their final two Panniers. Accomplished!
Finally we were off to our dining adventure in Staggia, fifteen kilometers north of our Agriturismo in Uopini. After winding through the countryside, then up and down Main Street, we finally made it to Trattoria I'Nostrano. It was clear from the moment I stepped inside that this was going to be much more than dinner. It was an experience that engaged all of our senses.
The tiny family-run trattoria with only four tables, doubled as a grocery store with a display case full of meats and cheeses, a tall cooler filled with beverages, and even an ice cream freezer. Marcello, chef and poet, worked his magic in the kitchen while his wife shuttled to-go orders for the customers outside waiting in the evening drizzle.
After poring over the Italian menu, fruitlessly attempting to guess the dishes and ingredients, we were unprepared when the waitress came to take our order. She was so friendly and kind and tried her best to answer our questions. Unfortunately her English was about as bad as our Italian, so she turned to the woman at the next table for help. Niki, a South African woman living part of the year in Italy and part of the year in Greece, aided us with translation and told us all about the house specialties.
Finally our food was ordered and we had only to wait for it to arrive. The first course was Antipasti, a selection of meats, cheeses, and crostini with liver pate. At one point I asked for grated Parmesan cheese and the waitress brought over a full bowl for us. Moments later I saw her out of the corner of my eye over at the meat and cheese cooler. She returned with a smile on her face, a plate filled with HUNKS of fresh Parmesan cheese, saying something like, a l'hospitalitie', which I imagine meant, on the house." What a treat!
For the main course, Tara chose a pasta dish with wild boar, rabbit, and other local wild meats. Lian ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce, fulfilling his week-long desire for the quintessential Italian pasta. Lisa was delighted with her choice of roast chicken. My Zuppa a Leonardo di Vinci featured onions, chopped pine nuts, and a hint of cinnamon. Wow!
As we shared each delicious, exquisitely cooked dish, we chatted with Niki and her two middle-school aged sons. She explained that Marcello's daughter, also a poet, often came in to perform dramatic readings of her own works. Tonight was no exception.
When Marcello's daughter waltzed into the restaurant midway through our meal, she was dressed in black from head to toe, except for a sparkling white belt and silver glitter on her cheeks. She took center stage between the shelves of pasta and the cheese cooler and proceeded to give a dramatic reading of her newest romantic poem. Of course we couldn't understand it, but once she was through, Niki's son Brandon jumped at the chance to provide us with an English translation. He dissected the final poem line by line with a little (unwanted) advice from his mom and the poet herself. Well done, Brandon! Thanks!
After his daughter was finished, proud owner Marcello emerged from the kitchen late in the evening to talk with us and the other patrons. He then sat down, finally giving his legs a rest from their long hours of standing by the stoves, seeming satisfied at a job well done. Completely satisfied as well, we left amid many warm ciao's and grazie's.
As we hopped back in the car, I suggested we make one more stop before going back to our apartment. Though it was late, everyone agreed, and we took our time meandering the cobbled streets of the famous thirteenth century walled village of Monteriggioni. To our delight, the town square's Gelateria was still open. As we walked in the crisp, late-night air enjoying our final gelato of the week, we all agreed this was an awesome end to a fantastic day.
I've dreamed of having a family vacation in Tuscany for years. When I learned that Tara and Tyler would be heading south through Italy in September, I told Lisa, "This is it. We've got to go now!" I am so thankful we did. Tara and Tyler, it has been an absolute joy for me to be part of your amazing adventure this week. Thanks for meeting us in Tuscany! I can't wait to plan our next rendezvous—perhaps in Thailand!
I love you,